TGO Awards: Reflections I — Gift Your Gear

As some of you will know I’m just back from the second annual TGO Awards ceremony; I was flattered to be asked to rejoin the judging panel for the second year. Last year I wrote a couple of pieces that were reflections on the experience and I will do the same this year. As ever, these are my views only and don’t necessarily reflect the views of either TGO other judges, but …

There is nothing new about Awards Ceremonies, they are all around us. I suppose for some they are controversial. What do they represent? Do they ever have any impact? How reflective are the awards the views of ordinary punters? And on we can go.

The outdoors world has a series of award programmes and ceremonies and has done for some time. The difference between the TGO Awards and most of the others is that they are designed to be consumer awards as opposed to industry awards. The existing industry awards have a massive impact on us as consumers, even if we don’t realise it. The buzz and hype for products — and the foundations for the magazine gear reviews of the next twelve months — are created at places like Friedrichshafen, the venue for Europe’s largest trade show.

Being only two years old the TGO Awards are still finding their way but one thing I was reflecting on dying my long train journey home was how they already seem to be developing a distinctiveness about that. A good example of how the consumer focus is different from the pure trade focus can be sen in the judging of the Biolite Camping Stove. This stove created a real stir when it was launched at trade shows a year or so ago and it is easy to see why. The Biolite is a wood burning stove which uses heat exchange technology to drive a fan and create an electrical current. You can connect all manner of electric gadgets to the stove and charge them from your camping stove.

The Biolite was nominated for the TGO Awards. 18 months on from its launch and many of us have had time to consider its merits in the context of UK weather and UK outdoor activities. Here in the UK wood burning stoves are an occasionally nice thing to use rather than a reliable, everyday, piece of camping kit. The Awards judge who had this to review simply wasn’t able to get it working in the time he had it simply because everything was too damp. But for me it was he efficiency of the stove that was the clincher. If I tell you that this wood burning stove can charge your phone you would no doubt be interested. If I told you that to charge the phone fully you would probably have to keep your fire going for 4 – 6 hours you may well loose interest. The Biolite technology makes sense in a lot of settings and has a great future in front of it as a camping/wilderness stove in warm climates but even more, I suspect, as the kind of device that can be used in disaster relief work throughout the sunnier areas of the world. But from a UK consumer point of view the Biolite is a luxury proposition and something for real gear obsessives and geeks; as such it didn’t win one of our awards, even though it had done well in industry competition.

It was our Award for the Gift Your Gear Scheme that really made me think we were at the start of something distinctive.

The Gift Your Gear Scheme was nominated in the Innovation of the Year category. We and a discussion about whether such a service could win such a category but in the end decided that this was such an important scheme that we gave it a ‘Special Award’. This was no less an award that the others, rather it was a way of being flexible enough for us to celebrate something that all of us felt should be recognised.

Gift Your Gear is mainly the inspirational creation of Sarah Howcroft. Sarah was a co-founder of the clothing company Rohan and as such she knows the industry well. Sarah is concerned about the growing expense of outdoor gear. In the current economic climate we have found that outdoor activities that should be easily within the reach of all have become more inaccessible because of gear cost. Sarah’s response is elegantly simple. She is creating a network of reuse points. If you are not using your gear why not simply take it along to one of these points for it to be collected and then distributed amongst groups who are working to improve access to outdoor activities. Many of us replace our gear way before it has begun to fall apart. We may choose to move to another piece of kit but our old kit probably has years of life left in it. As Gift Your Gear say themselves:

This September Rohan partnered with Gift Your Gear to offer the opportunity to take unwanted outdoor gear regardless of brand into any Rohan shop.

The substantial amount of used outdoor gear donated has enable Gift Your Gear to support many more community organisations, youth groups and charities working with young people in the outdoors. Enabling others to benefit from life changing experiences in the great outdoors, regardless of their circumstance.

It’s hard to enjoy the great outdoors when you’re cold, wet and uncomfortable. Having the right clothing and equipment helps to ensure that outdoor experiences are safe and enjoyable.

These are early days for the scheme and unsurprisingly, given Sarah’s background, Rohan are currently the main backers of the project. However, it is the intention of Gift Your Gear to spread out and to work with all manner of industry partners.

All of the judges were very keen to support this initiative, it was — we felt — the way we want the industry to go. An interest in, and commitment to, sustainability is something that unites all four of the Award judges. Sustainability is not an easy issue to address in a world where so much product is made from synthetic goods but Gift Your Gear allows us to cut out the worst aspects of shot term consumerism and support those without access to great amounts of cash.

A list of the projects supported by fit Your Gear so far can be found here.

We felt this was an initiative that needed support and that it’s wider aims gave it the nod over other reuse schemes such as the excellent scheme being developed by Paramo.  If we could do anything to give Sarah’s project a lift then we were keen to do so and we gave ourselves some flexibility in order to do so. Incidentally, the judges decided that such flexibility for special awards was something that should be born in mind for future competitions.

But while the judges may have had good intentions here, can an Award really make a difference?

I shall give the last word to Sarah.

I had a good chat with Sarah the morning after the Awards ceremony; she was still surprised and a little shocked that she had won the Award. She felt that the Award would be of great help in developing the scheme and in persuading other large gear companies to take part. Gift Your Gear is currently in discussion with at least one large scale industry player to become a partner during the next outdoor season. Sarah felt that the Award would help not only in these negotiations but in bringing other major players to the table. She was in no doubt that the Award would have real value and that is enough for me to feel really proud of what we did. This story and this Award is distinctively different and I hope is indicator of how the TGO Awards will develop over the coming years.

There is a wider context to all of this.

The judges met before the Award Ceremony to reflect on the process and to consider how the Awards might be tweaked and developed next year. We confirmed to ourselves that we were all very happy with the support give to Gift Your Gear.

One of the judges – I think Andrew Denton from the Outdoor Industries Association — told us about an outdoor retail development that he had recently seen in Scandinavia. The operation in question was not simply a retail store but it was a meeting place, a restaurant/cafe, a re-use centre, a recycling centre, an indoor climbing centre and a lot of other things besides that I have forgotten. In the days when retail stores need to work really had to differentiate themselves from online retailers they need to become much more than simply gear or discount gear stores. I would hope that the stores of the future find a way to giving Gift Your Gear and others real support. After all, this is what most of us (if not all of us) want to see.


  1. Sarah Howcroft says

    Really enjoyed the post. The real joy that Gift Your Gear brings is in helping young people enjoy our fantastic outdoor environment. Especially young people that do not have a lot of opportunity to get into the outdoors. When they do it is lovely to think Gift Your Gear contributes to their safety and enjoymen.. It’s also good to be in a position to help our fantastic outdoor brands find more sustainable practical solutions to the problems faced by all businesses today.
    A big thank you to all the award judges.

  2. Sarah

    The award has popular support too – there are a lot of us who are glad that GYG has happened (even beyond the guilt of gear freaks); the main thing is that the industry is a better place for GYG happening

    The person who has driven it is you – hence THANKS! Rohan should get some praise for offering support – but you have been the driver of this good thing…


  3. very sorry I missed meeting you Andy on Weds night last. Next time or during the TGOC – we r probably starting Lochailort, Friday am.

  4. Well said Charles.

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